May 23, 2024

The enormous salvo of Iranian weapons fired at Israel this weekend turned the countries’ long-running shadow war into a direct confrontation, raising fears that the countries’ old paradigm of trading carefully measured blows had been replaced by something more overt, violent and risky.

But by Monday, Israel had yet to respond to the Iranian assault. Rather than preparing the public for a showdown with its archrival, the government signaled a return to relative normalcy, lifting restrictions on large gatherings and allowing schools to reopen.

Some right-wing Israeli politicians, dismayed by the lack of an immediate response, have argued that Israel needs to strike back forcefully — and soon — or risk losing its deterrence. Other more centrist officials have argued that Israel should instead bide its time before responding and capitalize on the support it has received from allies and regional actors, who are otherwise angry about Israel’s war in Gaza.

Any forceful Israeli response would risk angering President Biden, who has pressed Israel to de-escalate and whose military support Israel would need in the event of a major confrontation. Israel has already drawn the president’s criticism for dragging out the war in Gaza, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel must weigh the perceived benefits of retaliation against the risk of further displeasing the president, along with the potential cost — both human and financial — of fighting two wars at the same time.

An Israeli official briefed on cabinet discussions who requested anonymity to discuss security matters said that as of Monday several options were being considered, ranging from diplomacy to an imminent strike, but gave no further details.

In short, the next steps in the conflict remain uncertain.

The nature of Israel’s response, analysts said, could increase or decrease the possibility of a regional war. And it could improve or strain Israel’s ties with Arab nations who share an antipathy for Iran but have been critical of the war in Gaza.

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